As a public school teacher in Denver, Colo., Keely McCaskie M’23 saw firsthand the positive impact increased community and family engagement has on the classroom. Among her personal initiatives was home visits for each of her students, building relationships that ultimately led to more student success.
Recognizing this type of engagement should be available to all students in the Denver Public School District, she transitioned to an administrator role. And realizing her passion for this work McCaskie sought to plant her flag as an expert in the field, which brought her to the online masters of education in community engagement at Merrimack College’s Winston School of Education and Social Policy.
“The Winston School was the only program that had everything I was looking for in terms of alignment with my own professional goals,” said McCaskie. “It’s almost like it was designed for me in a way.”
McCaskie admits it may seem odd to be in an online master’s degree program studying community engagement, but a significant part of the field has to do with mindsets, frameworks and structures. And being able to share experiences and best practices with fellow students from around the country has led to rich conversations and strong relationships.
There are more than 50 students in the online master of education in community engagement program, residing in 10 states across the country including Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Minnesota.
“There are trends nationwide now that are causing educators and administrators to consider how we can be more responsive and relevant for students, families and communities,” said McCaskie.
For her work in Denver, and her contributions to the community engagement program, McCaskie was selected for a Newman Civic Fellowship. Overseen by Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education, the year-long Newman Civic Fellowship recognizes and supports community committed students who are changemakers and public problem-solvers. Fellows receive training and resources to nurture their passions and help them develop strategies for social change.
“Keely is committed to educational equity and racial justice,” said Merrimack College President Christopher E. Hopey, Ph.D. “She is driven to partner with historically marginalized students and families to build humane educational systems that facilitate access and equity.”
McCaskie currently works as a manager in the Denver Public School’s Office of Family and Community Engagement managing a school-based community center where people can access skill building opportunities and resources to help support their stability and well-being, including English classes, GED prep, job skill training and connections to other organizations and resources across Denver.
“We focus on an educational approach for the whole family,” McCaskie said. “It is an innovative and novel approach where we are really trying to focus on bridging families and schools because family and community engagement is essential to student success.”
As a Newman Civic Fellow, McCaskie said she is looking forward to learning about other issues communities are focusing on and taking advantage of networking opportunities with other community leaders.